Looped In: Season One Wrap Up

In this episode, Lisa Munter talks with Riham LaRussa, CEO, founder and owner of Small Packages.

looped in podcast


Lisa Munter: Hi everyone. I'm Lisa Munter and welcome to Looped In With Knitt. Do you have experience being on either the nonprofit or donor side of philanthropy? If the answer is yes, then listen in because I'll be talking with my guest about the importance of making connections, the best ways to get involved and the dos and dont's when it comes to building sustainable relationships. You might even hear some fun facts about each of our guests and I promise no knitting needles required.

I think you hit the nail on the head. It really is about collaborations really do help spread awareness. I think sometimes nonprofits get a little nervous about that because they feel like oh no, you know I don't want to share resources in case of that decreases our opportunity for funding. But really, especially after the pandemic, I think that we're seeing a total shift in that we're working smarter, not harder. When we do collaborate, I think we're able to get more donor awareness and involvement than if we're just working alone.

Bo Goliber: I agree completely. I think it was required. I mean I've been prior to my role on the corporate philanthropy side. I was in the nonprofit side. If I were to compare where things are now to where they were then, the amount of collaboration has increased significantly. I think it's made a real difference in all of our ability to put our mission at the forefront. I mean the reality of it is, our mission isn't to raise money. Our mission is to support the people we serve, whoever your people are, whatever that looks like in terms of partnering with other organizations that have a similar mission, that's going. You know me, I always say intent is everything. If your intent is to raise the most money, it's not going to create the same outcome as collaborating for your mission.

Lisa Munter: Absolutely. It's all about the sustainability and it's the relationship behind that right. I mean, any nonprofit is never going to disregard a donation, but the goal is to understand why that donation happened in the first place. So then that way, maybe that donation, once you get to know the person behind that, maybe it'll double or triple or even better. Yet, they're so impacted by what you're doing that they want to get involved in other ways, by volunteering, or they're bringing in their coworkers and their friends, and that's how we, sustainability with the nonprofit will help move us forward.

Bo Goliber: I agree I think we've seen a really nice enhancement around the opportunity to build more. I call them multi-faceted partnerships, so really digging into the donor, figuring out what makes them tick, why they're interested, what's their personal connection. I'm actually fascinated by how many folks I meet that support us, even on a corporate level, where they have a sibling that had disability. Or I've met random strangers who we connected over the fact that they had a sibling that lived in a facility and now they would love to get back into supporting an organization who supports people with disabilities. So it's been really interesting to see that unfold and have it evolve and build those deeper connections.

Lisa Munter: Yes.

Riham LaRussa: I think it's the way I was brought up and seeing firsthand that not everybody is as lucky as I am, and materialistic things really, at the end of the day, don't mean everything. So I was really raised and brought up in a way of gratitude and just gratefulness for what I have and knowing that there's so many people out in the world that just don't have that or don't have the resources and a lot of it, I do feel, is generational cycles, and so it's important to me to find ways to give back to help break those generational cycles of poverty and trauma. It's just really important because I don't think you need to have a lot of materialistic things or money to be rich in this world, but I do believe everybody deserves to have the safety of a roof over their head and warmth and food and water. I just think those are human rights and I got to see firsthand that not a lot of people, not everyone in this world has it. So I want to do what I can to help get back. And another one is you know, I think everybody in this world has been affected by like suicide and people like in addiction, and I feel like that's another thing is a big generational trauma. Try and help them prevent that as much as possible, because it's something I, you know, want to break the chains for the future generations.

Lisa Munter: I love that. I really appreciate you. You know going into more detail of what your why is and you know the importance of. You know why you choose to give back and to what type of groups you know are important to you. With your business being, you know, you're new. You know and it's small and you can do online. You know you don't have a storefront. So how do you give back? Do you give cash? Do you give money? Do you do volunteer? Can you go and talk a little bit about that?

Riham LaRussa: Yeah, so we did do, we are doing like you know one where we are giving back cash where it's our box. It was called You Matter and we did partner with other brands that give back to suicide awareness and addiction recovery. So 5% of the profits from that box all goes to save.org. In other ways, you know like we are small so we're not mighty with our financials just yet. So we do have products that sometimes they just don't get used or purchased or they're not winners, so we donate those because there are causes that need them. Like, we have some great, amazing soaps that I've asked people don't want to give to people soaps, which I get. You know, like you think about it, like, yeah, you know, maybe you don't want to tell your friend that they smell so or they need to do it right, so I get it. So we'll take these soaps and we'll find a homeless shelter or you know a women's center that can use them. So we try to, you know, we are thoughtful with that as well. We don't just throw these things in the garbage. We find ways that we can donate those goods to, and I also am trying to find ways to donate and volunteer, like my time, volunteer more. That is something I do struggle with a little bit as a full-time working parent with a, with two daughters who are 10 and seven, are very active, so but that is something else I want to do more of.

Lisa Munter: You know. So you, you've talked a little bit about the importance of Death Wish and you know giving back to community, you know. So how does Death Wish give back? Do you do volunteer days? Do you give, you know, personal donations, sponsorships, can you talk a little bit about that?

Eric Donovan: Yeah, sure, I mean we do, you know, they talk about what is it like? Products, time and money, time and treasure. Or you know we kind of do all of those. We work, you know, we'll donate, you know straight up money to certain charities and often, like when we do that, we'll also kind of double-down and actually activate at that event, like be there, serve coffee, give products, help do raffle baskets, bring our own employees and have them help and volunteer time. So, it kind of depends on who we're working with and like what, the what, the parameters of like the charity is. But, we really like to kind of engage on all levels because we understand that money for these organizations is gonna be what is what drives their economic engine, right? And that's important to be able to support. And then, you know, we're lucky because, again, being like a really good coffee is, it's a value add for people who are out, like again, if you're doing an event, like people are excited to see our truck, they're excited to see our brand and our people there and we're excited to see them, we get to hand out coffee. It makes you know we'd like to think that what we do makes people want to come back and donate again next year and make sure that they're always there. And then, yeah, same thing. Like we, you know well, we love to donate our time. It makes us feel connected to the community, to the charity and to the company.

Lisa Munter: What would you say would be the biggest challenge when it comes to making and finding new connections?

Laura Kriegel: Time. I think that it's like so difficult to, as an executive director or as somebody working full-time for CAMP, find enough time to like really build the relationships in the way that we need to, with like all of that intention and all of the insight and thinking ahead and then like following up with people. And also, do all of the like operational program stuff. It's impossible. I think what people ask me, and I know it's a well-meaning question but when folks ask like well, what do you, your summer camp director, like what do you do the rest of the year? It kind of blows my mind, because it's like there's like we have seven people on our year-round team right now. Two of them are part-time but we work tirelessly to make all of the the marketing decisions, all of the fundraising decisions, all of the like relationship building decisions with our families, all of the staffing decisions. Like, it takes all year long and it is, it takes so, so much time. So time is the thing that that is in short supply, most of the time.

Lisa Munter: So, I just wanted to, you know, in a perfect world, you know what do you think, personally, with all of your years experience and in your role that you, you know, have been in, you know what can help with that? I mean, you mentioned outreach, but as an organization you can only do so much. But if you in a perfect world, you know, if it was up to you, Megan, what would help with that? Like no, seriously, because I think there's a lot of donors out there that, you know, you probably would want to support. They just don't know you know what you need and how you need it.

Megan Quillinan: Absolutely.

Lisa Munter: What are your thoughts on that?

Megan Quillinan: You know, money is always fabulous. Unrestricted money that allows us to put it where we need it, where you may need more this year and with to support domestic violence programs and next year and maybe for health and wellness for seniors. But to trust that we are going to be good shepherds of your funds, but, also recognizing that time and talent are incredibly valuable too, and I think a lot of times the same way people think of a nonprofit and think we have to be touchy feely and don't see us as the strong social impact sector that is an economic driver in a lot of communities and that is a business that is charged with the world's sometimes biggest problems on the smallest budget. You know that we know how to protect a buck and spend it and where it needs to be spent. I think people think of other businesses as talents that don't cross-over into the nonprofit world.

Lisa Munter: With all of that, I mean because you just listed all these things. You know what is your biggest challenge? You know, when it comes to finding donors, or you know people who want to support you?

Natasha Pernicka: I think, you know it depends on what's happening like as far as trends, or what's happening in the bigger community or globally, and so, like, our challenges today are much different than they were two years ago. So, during the COVID pandemic shutdown, there was a lot of media exposure about food, and so the community was and individuals were very generous. But now that inflation has hit and you know, economic stability is a little bit insecure right now, unfortunately, donations are down right now, while we're literally having the highest service levels our coalition has ever seen. So, right now it's really, I think a lot of donors might be a little bit burnt out from COVID and people are just trying to get back to life as usual. But right now, so many of our community members are actually experiencing even worse times than they've ever had, at the same time when inflation is hitting food pantries as well as families. Food inflation is up around 10% right now and it's staying high. So not only are we seeing right now even families who have two parents working are turning to food pantries because they don't have the resources to pay for food and food, a lot of people also don't realize food pantries pay for most of the food that they distribute, and so food costs for pantries are also more expensive. However, one of the things I like to share that most people don't know about the food pantry system is that the food pantries, when they spend their dollars, it goes farther than you going to a grocery store for a food drive. So, for example, a food pantry, if you donate $10 to a food pantry and they use it to pay for food, they can get up to 62 pounds of food for $10. So, a lot of times through wholesaling and other, you know, getting food from the Food Bank and things like that donating dollars can make the dollars go a lot farther for the amount of food that is needed in the Capital Region alone. So just last year we our coalition provided enough food for more than 3.2 million meals. So that's a lot of food that pantries are needing to move. So, I think really the biggest challenge I guess right now would be so that people understand pantries are struggling right now to keep up with the increased community need right now. So just getting that message out there and a lot of people right now are also struggling. You know people who might have been able to donate to us a couple years ago because of inflation, might be struggling a little bit more, and so they're not able to be quite as generous as they were in the past, and so reaching new donors is also really, really important. People who maybe didn't realize, oh, I didn't realize this was a need in my own community, and here's an opportunity where I can make a local impact. I know my dollars are going to go right here to probably my own neighbors that I'm not even aware of. They are having to turn to a food pantry right now.

Jeff Vukelic: I do have a passion for politics. It's a sport right now and when I graduated went before I graduated college I did an internship on Capitol Hill and I got to meet President Reagan.

Lisa Munter: Wow.

Jeff Vukelic: So, I was the person that, before his State of the Union speech, I had to go up to him and say, Mr. President, it's time to make your speech. And he turned around and he looked at me and said, son, you're doing a great job. And that to me was like that was a highlight of my, one of the highlights of my life to meet President Reagan and be able to tell him he's got to go make his speech. It was pretty cool.

Lisa Munter: Oh my gosh, yeah, that's, that's gonna be hard to top, I think. So that is fantastic.

You understood where I was going with Knitt and my vision, because you've had the business side from your previous life and now you're you know you're working on the nonprofit side. So I just want to start by saying how impactful you were to me to be as a mentor and what your advice was to me moving forward with my journey really means a lot, so I just want to thank you for that.

Adam Feldman: Thank you very much. It's great to hear. I really appreciate that.

Lisa Munter: Yeah so, anyways, it makes me excited. So to move on to the topic of connections, so Habitat for Humanity. Why is making connections and building relationships so important to what you do?

Adam Feldman: Yeah, so it's not only important to what we do, it is what we do, it is everything. Everything is ingrained into the community. So Habitat is a developer that never leaves. We are in the community, building for the community, committed to community, and also our unique model building with volunteers. We literally build with the community and so Habitat's very unique, where a lot of volunteers they don't get necessarily interact with the direct clients that they're serving. So maybe you go and make 5,000 Thanksgiving meals but you never actually have dinner with the person that you're making the meal for. Yeah? And habitat it's very special because the family, you know, one of the biggest burdens to homeownership is down payment and so we have very small down payment $2,500, but instead they put sweat equity into the house so they come and build with the community and so the person that's eventually going to buy the house gets to literally work with the community and that really starts. That's phase one of like the Habitat relationship.

Lisa Munter: Wow, I love that. And you know, so how does Habitat find those connections?

Adam Feldman: Yeah, so well one, we're really lucky that everyone knows what Habitat for Humanity is.

Lisa Munter: That's true.

Adam Feldman: Yeah, we're one of the most powerful brands in the world. Jimmy Carter put us on the map, and so you know, when we do a lot of small businesses, like you know, you give me an elevator picture at our first coffee shop meeting. You know we joke around that, our elevator pictures. Hi, I'm Adam and I work for Habitat, and that's it. We're done, that's enough to earn a meeting, and so sometimes that first meeting is really hard to get to initiate the relationship, and we're lucky that we have a great brand that sort of opens up doors.

Lisa Munter: You know, with me, you know, sitting on a few boards of some local nonprofits, we have been the receivers of your generosity, yours and your brother's, and you know, you know, how do you? I mean, I know how you give, but you know, how does Polyset like to give back? Do you? Do you know, like, tell us all the ways that you give back?

Rajat “Raj” Ghoshal: Well, we certainly try to, we've been involved in and we certainly try to work with so many groups. We work with a lot of local organizations, but also national organizations that are important to us as business owners but also to our community. We've been involved with groups such as the Alzheimer's Association in Northeastern New York. It's tremendously important to, I know, to your family as well, and also to members of our community. So that's been important for us to support. But also on the local level, especially our local community center, Mechanicville area, community services center. They've they provide a sundry of services to the community and we've been proud to support them in a variety of different ways, not just monetarily but also gathering donations amongst the staff for, for food pantries and also back to school, as we're getting into that season.